Ever since Busta Rhymes’ 2003 hit Pass the Courvoisier, Part II caused a notable jump in Courvoisier sales, liquor product placement has become pervasive part of hip hop music.
The beginnings of artists’ mentioning liquor brands in their music was relatively innocent, purely motivated by artistic choice rather than financial gain. According to Courvoisier, there was no agreement with Busta Rhymes to have their brand mentioned in the song. But the resulting 20-30% sales increase was hard for liquor companies to ignore. Since then, liquor companies have made a habit of making endorsement deals with hip hop artists. The artists appear in commercials, the liquor appears in music videos and the product names are mentioned in songs.
It’s interesting how mutually beneficial the relationship appears to be. The artists help the liquor companies to sell more product. The artists get paid to promote. And we buy these songs up like hotcakes. (Anyone remember this?) The public doesn’t seem at all turned off by the fact that its favorite songs feature advertisements. Not just ads on before and after it plays on the radio, but during the song. And it’s only growing.
According to a report released by PQ Media, while overall product placement decreased between 2008 and 2009, “the money spent on product placement in recorded music grew 8 percent.”
The hip hop industry’s embrace of brand promotion in its music doesn’t come completely out of left field. True, the music is at the core of hip hop. But the industry is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial. For many hip hop moguls— who have become their own brand— it’s all about diversification. For some, music is their least lucrative venture.
Rapper Jay-Z’s business ventures, when he’s not busy tending to a pregnant Beyoncé, have included: co-owner of the 40/40 Club; investor in Carol’s Daughter, a beauty line; part-owner of the New Jersey Nets; investor in real estate ventures such as J Hotels; co-founder of Rocawear clothing line; co-brand director for Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Select, among others.
Perhaps even more interesting are the theories of why hip hop music is so compatible with the liquor industry. According to Abram Sauer in the article “Can Hip Hop Cash In?,” it has to do with individual nature of hip hop music and its musicians. Unlike the country and rock genres, a vast majority of hip hop artists perform under an individual name, rather than that of a group or band. Due to this individual nature of “I-ness,” hip hop has become the “most ideal musical format for the genuine personal endorsement of any idea, experience or commodity.”
Gil Kaufman’s article, “Push the Courvoisier,” offers another take. Kaufman’s article cites Lucian James, founder of the brand strategy company LucJam, as stating, “Hip-hop is about the here and now, whereas rock and pop songs tend to be more about eternal themes of love and hate. A lot of current culture is about the things we want and own.”
The question for the music fan is: Are these artists compromising their artistic integrity by being paid to mention brands in their music?
The line between music and merchandise is becoming increasingly blurred. While we can decide not to support an artist who’s raked in a cool million for uttering “Grey Goose” on a track, it’s difficult to avoid it entirely. Product placement is popping up more and more, and only the future will tell what businesses will cook up next.
Ludwig never played us like this.
(Photo found here.)